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Rustaveli Theatre confirms controversial Russian festival appearance

Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Theatre troupe has confirmed it will perform at the upcoming Chekhov International Theatre Festival in Moscow, amid criticism from parts of the public on the backdrop of Russia’s ongoing occupation of two of Georgia’s regions.

On Monday, the company – one of the major theatre troupes in Georgia with a rich history – said its touring roster would be in the Russian capital for three shows of Endgame, a production staged by artistic director Robert Sturua on a play by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett.

The confirmation followed inquiries from the Georgian press – and criticism from some among the theatre community in the country – about their rumoured appearance at the festival over the previous days.

While not directly referring to critical reactions and questions raised by some of their social media followers and personalities of the Georgian theatre scene, the theatre said the Chekhov Festival had become “one of the significant events for everyone for whom theatre is precious”.

More direct references to the controversy were made by culture minister Thea Tsulukiani, who told reporters “all theatres and artistic directors are free” in making touring decisions. Tsulukiani also alluded to media’s past questions about independence of artists under her spell in her response.

The minister told the local press during her appointment as minister in the spring she had become aware of “certain channels'” critical positions about a possibility of her interfering with artists, adding her non-intrusion in the Rustaveli Theatre tour question was a demonstration of the opposite policy.

A scene from a performance of ‘Endgame’, the production selected by the troupe for the Chekhov Festival. Photo via Rustaveli Theatre.

The Tbilisi-based theatre company, which received the status of a National Theatre a few months ago, also appeared at the Chekhov Festival in 2019. Its artistic director Sturua is no stranger to controversy, including for his positions with regard to appearances in Russia.

In preview of the company’s performances in Moscow Sturua told Russia’s Channel One it was “very pleasing” for the group to be able to “show our production to the Moscow audience”, while actor Nana Pachuashvili told reporters from the channel she and her colleagues looked forward to appearing at the festival as “the Russian audience loves to listen [and] think”.

Georgian artists and collectives have taken differing positions about engagements in Russia on the backdrop of the country’s occupation of the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali (South Ossetia) regions of Georgia since the 2008 war between the two states.

Earlier this year, internationally renowned dancer and Artistic Director of the State Ballet of Georgia Nina Ananiashvili announced she had accepted an offer to lead the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre’s ballet company in Russia. The deal only unravelled later due to the company management’s dissatisfaction with the timing of her confirmation of the appointment.

In 2019, popular singer Nino Katamadze, who has a wide audience in Russia, said her appearance at Moscow’s Festival Usadba Jazz in June of that year would be her last performance in the country.

Earlier the same year Giorgi Shvelidze, winner of the American Society of Cinematographers Spotlight Award, decided against travelling to Moscow to attend the International Film Award ‘East-West. Golden Arch’, where he had been nominated for the Best Cinematography Award.

Young jazz talent Beka Gochiashvili made a similar decision as he announced in March 2019 he would be joining the Stanley Clarke Band’s European tour in all locations except the Russian capital and the city of St Petersburg.

Rustaveli Theatre is set to perform at the Chekhov International Theatre Festival on June 30, July 1 and July 2.

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